Living Abroad · Teaching · Travel

Teaching at Kang Chiao International School in Huaqiao, Kunshan, Jiangsu, China Part 1: The Visa Process and Arrival in China

For the short answer, KCIS is not a school that values education, its teachers, or diversity. I would not recommend taking a teaching position at KCIS in Kunshan.

The Visa Process Before Arriving in China

The interview with Kang Chiao was fairly straight forward and you’ll likely talk with a few different people including the head of whatever department you are going to be a part of. Once you are hired (which should be easy if you are a certified teacher with any experience), you’ll begin the grueling process of getting documents in order for your visa. I can only shed light on this process for American citizens because the requirements vary from country to country. You will be in communication with Kang Chiao’s HR staff which is a fully Chinese office. This can cause some communication issues because the English level of the HR staff varies greatly from person to person. You will receive a list of items that you’ll need to gather and submit to Kang Chiao so they can obtain your visa for you. This list will include things like passport photos, a comprehensive health examination, and several documents that need to be authenticated. Kang Chiao will not be able to explain how to get these things done, so you will need to do some research for yourself if you have never applied to work to China before.

Our personal frustration with this process developed when we started getting conflicting information from multiple people in the HR department. Getting documents authenticated by the appropriate state and federal agencies is a very time consuming and expensive process, so when we would find out that we needed yet another item authenticated after being in communication for months, you can imagine how this might be stressful when preparing for an international move. It’s also worth noting that we were moving a family of three, so we had additional items that needed to be authenticated like our marriage certificate and our child’s birth certificate.

The health examination form is in Chinese with English translations, and this is a standard form for employment in China and not Kang Chiao’s creation. It’s a good idea to clarify a few things before you book an appointment with your primary care provider. The form will require an actual stamp- meaning a physical stamp that you use with an ink pad- to be considered valid. If you look at the form below, you will see it says the stamp needs to cover the photo attached in the top right corner of the first page. The ink will most definitely smudge, but this didn’t seem to cause us any issue. Our doctor’s office had to actually reach out to the hospital they are associated with to locate a stamp for us that had the hospital’s name and address on it. We got it done, but it took multiple visits and phone calls to do. Luckily, we had a very understanding doctor, good office staff, and I have some ability to read to Chinese which helped in getting the form completed correctly. The health form did not have to be completed for our one year-old child.

It is important to note that China frequently changes its requirements for Americans to obtain various visa types, and the staff at Kang Chiao cannot control that. That being said, you must do your research and stay on top of communicating with HR or you may find that you are not going to get your visa in time to start the school year.

At the time we applied for our visas in 2019, it was required to have a plane ticket booked before we could get approved for our visas. If this is the case for you, you need to book a flight that is fully refundable in the event you are unable to get your visa.

This process is going to be long and frustrating for any job you might seek in China. I have lived in China three separate times in my life, and the paperwork and  bureaucracy is simply going to be frustrating.

Arriving in China and the Reception from Kang Chiao

The only flights we could get into Shanghai arrived after the latest pickup time for someone from the school to meet us directly upon landing so we had to get a hotel in Shanghai for our first night. I booked the hotel myself and we stayed at the Radisson which is just across from the Pudong airport. We took a shuttle to get there and this was all arranged on our own without assistance from the school. We gave the HR department our hotel information and they sent someone with a van and an English-speaking intern to pick us up the next morning. The intern was very sweet and did her best to help us, but her English was fairly poor. There was some debacle at the hotel desk over a fapiao (Chinese receipt with stamps- the stamps are important!) that we needed in order for Kang Chiao to reimburse us for the hotel room and food purchased during our stay at the hotel, but the hotel could not produce this fapiao and we were really exhausted and I was holding a toddler so we just decided to not get reimbursed for our meals. I mention this because Kang Chiao is a Chinese-run school so the appropriate receipts must be turned in for all reimbursements they offer. A standard receipt like the ones you get when you make a credit card payment are not acceptable. We were never reimbursed for our stay by Kang Chiao, even though this was part of the relocation package.

The ride into Kunshan is long and in August, it will be hot. We got a welcome bag from the intern taking care of us that had some Oreos and bottled water in it. I remember being really concerned at how smoggy it was on that trip. I write in more detail about the poor air quality of Kunshan in this post, The Real Deal with Kunshan’s Air Quality. Spoiler: The air quality is terrible for a huge chunk of the year.

After a two hour ride into Kunshan, we arrived at the hotel that Kang Chiao was going to have us stay in while we looked for an apartment. It’s called Motel Hotel and it’s located within the “Rainbow” apartment complex where many Kang Chiao teachers live. If you choose the get a furnished apartment provided by the school, it will be a unit in the “Rainbow Apartments.” This isn’t the real name of this complex, but all the foreigners just come up with their own names for things instead of learning the actual names. For some details about the Motel Hotel experience, check out this post:

This Hotel Motel Ain’t No Holiday Inn: Moving to Kunshan Part 1

It was surprising to me that we had to stay in such a terrible hotel, but I had a baby with me so I had absolutely no tolerance for the cigarette smoke in the lobby or in our room. I was grossed out by the minibar of condoms in the room but I didn’t even put 2 and 2 together until another teacher told us several weeks later that you get little cards with pictures of prostitutes slid under your hotel room door at night. So, Kang Chiao’s hotel of choice for housing its staff is pretty bad. There is another hotel located in the same building called Home Inn Plus that is about $10 per night more expensive than Motel Hotel and it does not smell of cigarettes nor does it actively promote, uh, nighttime pleasures to its guests. We decided we would just pay to stay at Home Inn Plus and not worry whether or not Kang Chiao would reimburse us, again. When HR realized we had checked ourselves out of the Motel Hotel, they told us they also use Home Inn Plus when Motel Hotel is full so they would pay for our stay. We explained that we couldn’t live for a few weeks in a cigarette smoke-filled hotel with a baby and they did pay for our stay.

The intern from Kang Chiao’s HR department who dropped us off at the hotel initially was very sweet, but she was not from Kunshan and couldn’t tell us where anything was located. We did not yet have Chinese cell phones and my international plan with Verizon did not work at all. We needed to get food and some other things but she could only tell us to order stuff on TaoBao and to use DiDi to get around. Well, you need a working Chinese cell phone and a Chinese bank account linked to WeChat Pay to do those things. I was blown away that the person sent to help us get settled in could not point us to even a convenience store. Later, I learned that were several veteran teachers at the school who repeatedly offer to meet new hires at the airport and get them settled but the school insists on using their HR interns for this task.

We did not see anyone who looked to be a teacher in our hotel or the surrounding area. It actually weirded us out a little. The school is big and there are tons of teachers, but in those first few days we never met anyone from the school aside from our deer-in-the-headlights intern.

Getting Bank Accounts and Cell Phones

We were to report to the school at a certain date and time to go with a group of people to get cell phones and bank accounts set up. When we arrived at the gate of Kang Chiao at our designated time, we were denied entry by the gate guards. A lady in the gate house said we needed to give her all three of our passports or they would not let us in. This exchange occurred completely in Chinese, by the way. I felt very grateful that I could speak a decent amount of Chinese because I had to work through situation after situation completely on my own and I don’t know how I would’ve managed it if I couldn’t speak Chinese. I told the lady that we needed our passports to get our bank accounts which was the reason we were at the school and she insisted that we could not enter with our passports. I got really mad standing there in the heat holding the baby trying gain entry into the school that requested my family arrive with our passports in the HR office at a specific time but could not send someone to the gate to let us in. Hadn’t someone put our names on a list at the gatehouse? No. And we had no working phones at this point. I had to spend a long time yelling at this lady until another security guard came over and then I had to try an re-explain to him that we needed our passports. They finally got so irritated with me that the lady threw her hands up in the air, yelled something at me and opened the gate.

We had to spend a long time sitting in the HR office with no real direction which would’ve been fine had I not had a baby that needed to eat and have diaper changes. Nothing occurred on-time and we were kind of just left to sit at this conference table. The school was supposed to provide us lunch because this was an all-day thing but they failed to account for the fact that we were a family of three. They issued us one lunch ticket because there was one teacher in the group. When we said that both of us adults needed to, the guy in HR acted like this was such an inconvenience and dashed off somewhere. He returned a little while later and told me how lucky I was to receive a second lunch ticket. These were so we could eat in the school cafeteria.

This was an obvious sign of how stingy the school is and how things would go later in the year. The teachers are treated like children and everything is micromanaged.

We did get our phones and bank account set up and finally met some other new teachers who would become our life-long friends. We relied heavily on other teachers for support during the first few weeks. The school will not support its new teachers so you must connect with other teachers as soon as possible.

It’s also worth noting the school’s restrooms have squat toilets. This is odd for an international school. But, that’s because Kang Chiao is not actually an international school. It’s a Chinese school with an international teaching staff. So, you will follow a Chinese schedule which means you will be making up every holiday given by working weekends. You will occasionally work two weeks straight without a day off. International schools don’t operate this way and I know because I have actually attended three different international schools in China myself.

Finding an Apartment

This was another area in which the school did not give us any direction or help. I actually found a real estate office on a bus route to a popular store, E-Mart, and went in and commissioned the help of a couple agents who did not speak English. It was incredibly difficult to communicate our exact requirements and after a week of fruitless searching, a friend of our found a contact of an agent who routinely works with Kang Chiao staff to find apartments. The problem with her was that she was kind of in charge of finding places for about 100 teachers so she was very overworked, but she was really helpful when you could get her to spare some time. We ended up renting a brand new apartment in MixTown. I write a little more about that complex in this post, Livin’ It Up in MixTown if you’re interested in a closer look.

Do Not Sign Up for Summer School!

Before you ever arrive in China, you will likely be recruited to sign up to teach some summer classes right before the start of school for extra pay. You will not be prepped on what is required and you will not be given any materials. If you need to do anything like find a place to live, you will not be given time if you agree to teach in their summer program. Do not do it. They are going to overwork you later, so there’s plenty of time for that after Golden Week. I’m shocked that the school even allows brand new teachers that have just flown around the world and have yet to find a place to live engage in this “summer school” program. Moving to China is a big deal. You need time to settle in and get yourself set up with everything required for basic living. Kang Chiao will attempt to squeeze every bit of your time out of you. Decline the summer school gig.

To be Continued…

This is just an overview of your first few days at Kang Chiao. In my next post, I am going to go over some of the rampant racism that runs through Kang Chiao (if you are upstanding person of any sort, you will not want to support this school in any way), the situation with the homeroom teachers, weekend and holiday work, the fact that PE teachers are expected to wash students uniforms themselves, and how the school responded to its teachers being stranded all over the world when China began its lockdowns at the onset of the coronavirus/COVID crisis. Spoiler alert: It was atrocious.

In the meantime, check out some reviews of the school on Glassdoor. You will see many reviews that mention racism and micromanaging. It’s best not to just take one person’s word for it if you’re considering making such a big move.

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